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COMMUNITY ROUTES

Community Routes

Church of the Poor?

On 19thNovember, 2016, Church Action on Poverty (CAP) gathered its supporters for its annual conference at the Unitarian Cross Street Chapel in Manchester. Among them, were two First Order Brothers and two Tertiaries. As a matter of fact, Helen Hood TSSF is serving as one of the trustees of CAP. It was also a nice surprise to bump into Brother Fabian CR. As it turns out, we are not the only Anglican religious community supporting CAP.

CAP felt inspired by Pope Francis, who recently said: ‘How I wish, that there was a church of the poor.’ The day started by listening to poetry that was created in a local Creative Writing Project, where poor people could articulate the joys and frustrations of their lives. Then various different groups and people were given a chance to present themselves: ranging from a church that opened its door to the homeless, a Baptist Minister who founded an alternative church in a poor area, to an evangelical Pastor who presented his research on the ‘Myth of the undeserving poor’. At that point, we broke into round table groups discussing how we could transform our churches into places of and for the poor.

Lunch was a good opportunity to meet and catch up with people. In the afternoon, a panel discussion deepened our conversation, followed by more round table discussions and a final plenary. At that point, it was time for the AGM and about half of the audience discreetly sneaked away. It felt like an enriching day, at which the Franciscan presence was well appreciated. We are looking forward to a growing partnership between SSF and CAP.

Hope, not fear

Brothers and sisters throughout the Province have prayed, stood, walked, or sat, in various demonstrations in solidarity with others against discrimination or in the cause of peace.

Stand up to Racism

At a time when there is a deeply worrying increase in the number of racist incidents being reported in the UK 1,500 people gathered together in London on 8thOctober, 2016, to attend the annual ‘Stand up to Racism’ conference. The great number of people, as well as the obvious diversity within the audience was an encouraging sight. There were refugees and other immigrants, activists and campaigners, Trades Unionists, teachers, politicians and other people who are simply concerned. As part of this great assembly there were three Franciscans representing the Society of St Francis and specifically the First Order Brothers’ Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Working Group. It was a day full of input and networking opportunities. The most useful meeting organised support for the refugees in Calais. We were reminded by speaker after speaker how harmful racism is to its victims, and, sadly, how widespread it is in this country.

21stJanuary London march

In the same vein, Christine James and Beverley went to London on 21st January, 2017, the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, as women-led marches were held in  cities all over the world ‘for the protection of our fundamental rights and for the safeguarding of freedoms threatened by recent political events. We unite and stand together for the dignity and equality of all peoples, for the safety and health of our planet and for the strength of our vibrant and diverse communities.’

Celebrating diversity through immigration

On Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, (27thJanuary), President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting people from seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) from entering the USA, an act that provoked condemnation on a worldwide scale. On the 30thJanuary, 2017, there were protests all over the UK, calling on Prime Minister Theresa May – who appeared ambivalent when interviewed on the policy – to condemn the ban. The Brothers in Newcastle decided to register their opposition to the ban and all it stands for and joined in one such protest. It was wonderfully inspiring to be part of a huge assembly, which had gathered at 24 hours’ notice around the Earl Grey Monument in the City Centre. The organisers used the occasion to send a clear message against hatred. Many signs stated ‘Refugees are welcome here’. It gave us a great sense of hope that civil society is still so alive and well in the UK: and willing to stand up!

Canterbury

On 20thFebruary, 2017, the UN World day of Social Justice, people from all over the UK celebrated the continuing contribution of migrants to this country. The Brothers in Canterbury joined others in marking this by attending a march and holding it in prayer at the Eucharist (the march passed by the chapel as some of the Brothers were celebrating the Eucharist). On the same day in Westminster, Parliament held a debate about the proposed visit of Donald Trump to the United Kingdom. This, coupled with the ongoing Brexit debate, was also noted by those participating in the march. Speaker after speaker proposed that we focus on hope and not fear. The march was attended by several hundred people representing the Church, universities and others.

Korea

Frances and Jemma joined a demonstration against THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), an anti-missile system due to be installed somewhere near Gumi, the city less than a couple of miles from where the sisters live. It is to protect the South from North Korean missile strikes, but many Koreans oppose it as an unnecessary militarization of the Korean peninsula, as well as making the area more of a target for the North.

Robes

Members of the community at St Alphege’s House in Southwark were again involved with the ‘Robes Project’. This aims to provide overnight accomm-odation with an evening meal and breakfast, in church halls in the Rotherhithe, Bermondsey and Southwark areas (and you thought it was something to do with clothes!) over the winter months and until mid-April. Sue helped most Sunday evenings, Gina did the breakfast shift on Mondays and Matthew periodically cooked the evening meal, catering for about 20 people.

Triangles and Numbers

Maureen writes: We were a select group of brothers and sisters who gathered with the brothers at Alnmouth friary for three days of learning more about the enneagram, and applying it to living in community, in the second week of January. Josephine Seccombe was our tutor and we benefitted from the many years in which she has been immersed in the enneagram as a way of under-standing one’s personality: our ‘default’ methods of doing things, the things that ‘drive’ us, our desires, and our gifts.

Although the origins of the enneagram are lost in the mists of time, it has long been connected with the journey of faith, and addit-ional prayer reflections made this link clearer regarding our Christian faith. It was also good to join with the daily prayer of the friary, and to help with clearing up after meals. A friend of the brothers kindly came and cooked for us, freeing up the resident brothers to attend the sessions.

Round up

James Douglas has moved to Canterbury, and Finnian to Glasshampton.

At the Candlemas Chapter, James Douglas was elected to Profession; Christopher Martin and Joseph Emmanuel were elected to Life Profession. At the time of printing, the date for Christopher Martin’s service had been fixed for 22ndApril, in Cambridge, and James Douglas’s service for 8th July at Hilfield.

Donald celebrated the 60thanniversary of his profession in vows, at  the care home where he is now resident, on 18thMarch.

In separate elections, Sue and Benedicthave been re-elected as Minister Provincial CSF and Minister Provincial SSF, respectively, in the European Province.

In the Third Order in the European Province, Jamie Hacker Hughes has been elected to be the next Minister Provincial. He will take up office on 17thJune, 2017. f

 

 

EDITORIAL

Christian Socialism

For most people, Socialism in itself is scary enough, and we are not accustomed to think of Christianity and Socialism together. However, in this issue of franciscan, Symon Hill from Ekklesia gives an outline of Christian socialism; Tobias Phibbs from the Fabian Society reflects on the distinction between Christian and secular Socialism and Brother Robert highlights a Franciscan approach to Socialism. We’ve given the last word to the real heroes: those who put theory into practice and live Christian Socialism.

THEME PRAYER

Theme Prayer

Keep us faithful, O God,

to the inspiration of blessèd Francis,

that seeking nothing for ourselves

we may bring true riches to the world;

through him who gave us himself,

Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

The Daily Office SSF page 798

 

MINISTER’S LETTER

Sister Helen Julian, Minister General of the First Order Sisters, writes:

Dear Friends,

As I write this, many Mosques around the country are preparing to open their doors for a day to anyone who wants to visit them.  It’s a response to a particular political situation, but it got me

Helen Julian CSF

thinking about doors in general – open and closed.  Those of us who are accustomed to walking through the doors of churches can forget how intimidating that may feel to others.  Especially if they can’t see what lies beyond, it takes some courage to open the door and walk into the unknown.  We know that we’re friendly and will try to be welcoming, but the first time visitor doesn’t.  And they may have picked up strange, even worrying, ideas about what goes on behind that closed door – of churches, and other places of worship.

I remembered two churches I’d visited, which had found ways of making themselves and their life more visible.  One is a London church to which one of my sisters belongs; when they totally rebuilt the church they made the bold decision to make the most of their corner site by installing two walls made almost entirely of glass, so that passers-by could see the congregation at worship. The other is the Anglican Cathedral in Kuching, Malaysia.  When they extended the Cathedral they decided to install a large glass door at the west end, so that passers-by in this country, where Christians are a minority, could see inside and not have to push open a door into the unknown.

Of course there are other ways of ‘opening our doors’.  In our parish churches we can make sure that we are genuinely welcoming to those who do come inside, at Christmas and Harvest, for weddings, baptisms, and funerals, helping them to feel that this is their space as much as ours, and sensitively giving them the knowledge they need to feel at home. We can make use of technology to remove the walls of our churches and share something of what happens inside, through our websites and social media presence.

As a Franciscan community we also look to find ways of opening doors into our life, whether that is through wearing the habit, inviting others into our homes, going out to share our faith and the fruits of our common life, writing, or sharing on social media.

And all of us can ‘open the doors’ of our own lives as well, being willing to speak of the role of faith in our lives, rather than keeping it locked away as a private matter.

But for most of us there are also parts of our lives that do stay behind closed doors – past pain and loss, actions of which we are now ashamed, longings that can’t be fulfilled. And groups too have their closed doors, places where everyone knows that ‘we don’t go’, topics that are never raised, possibilities that are never explored. Churches, communities, families, workplaces – it happens everywhere.

John’s account of the resurrection speaks to me of this. ‘When it was evening of that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear … Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you”.’ (John 21:19)

The doors, which we keep closed and locked out of fear, are no barrier to the risen Christ, and to the peace which he brings. Though it may be a disturbing peace, which challenges our self-protectiveness and our fear of those who are different. Janet Morley, in one of her Eucharistic prayers, offers us these words, which could be a prayer for this Easter season:

‘Blessed is our brother Jesus,

who comes behind the doors we have closed,

and breathes on our fear his fearful peace.’

 

Peace and all good, Helen Julian CSF

BR CHRISTIAN SSF RIP

Please pray for the repose of Brother Christian SSF who died this afternoon (July 5th) at Newham Hospital.

Please remember him, his friends and family, and the brothers in Plaistow in your prayers. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

Brother Christian SSF (David John Pearson).
Born 3 March 1942.
Received as novice in SSF 5 February 1972.
First profession in SSF 5 February 1975.
Life profession in SSF 4 February 1978.

Br Ramon SSF

Canon Arthur Howells, a friend of Br Ramon’s, has written a book about Ramon which includes extracts from Ramon’s writings. Entitled A Franciscan Life it is published by the Bible Reading Fellowship and costs £8.99 (ISBN: 9780857466624). Br Christopher John SSF (Minister General of the Brothers of the First Order) writes “…Congratulations to Arthur Howells and BRF for producing a book which encapsulates what I knew of Br Ramon SSF. I really appreciate the way the author has blended the story of Ramon’s life with extracts from Ramon’s own words. And the thematic extracts from his writings provide material for individual or group reflection. Personally, I will be using the book for my daily spiritual reading, as a ‘starter’ for prayer. Thanks for the publication of this book which I am sure will do a lot to help keep Ramon’s teaching alive…”

SSF YouTube Channel

Br Christopher John (Minister General of the Society of St Francis) has been making videos on his Pastoral visits around the Provinces. Click here to be taken to his YouTube Channel.

Book Launch at Alnmouth Friary

The Friary, Alnmouth written by local historians Patricia Jones and John and Stephanie Yearnshire was launched today in the library of Alnmouth Friary. The launch, which was attended by Lord and Lady Howick (Son and Daughter-in-law of Lady Mary Howick a great benefactress of the Friary) and other guests marks the culmination of a year of research into the history of what is now the Friary of St Francis but which began life, more than a hundred years ago, as Lint Close the home of Mr and Mrs Scholefield of Alnmouth. It was particularly good that Br Reginald (acting Guardian of Alnmouth in 1988) was present as well as many friends of the Friary.

The proceeds of the book (which costs £4.00) will go towards the work of the Society of St Francis.

 

Br Reginald enjoying the book

Lord and Lady Howick with Patricia Jones and John and Stephanie Yearnshire

Br Micael (Brother in Charge)

Br Jason (who was involved in the production of the book) with John Yearnshire and Lord Howick

 

 

 

 

AUDIO FRANCISCAN JANUARY 2017

Articles

Francis, politics and urban mission – David Walker TSSF

‘Rebuild my Church’ – Gordon Dey

Franciscan Evangelism: to care for the planet – Frances Teresa Downing OSC

Mission and evangelism in SSF – David SSF

Donald SSF

Focus on Newcastle

Whatever happened to Br Giles? – Petà Dunstan

 

Vocations Event in Southwark

Life as a Franciscan Sister …..could this be for me….?
a day to explore Franciscan community life in the Church of England

  • Franciscan sisters share their stories of God’s call and their life in community
  • DVDs on St Francis and Franciscans today to help us reflect, with opportunities for discussion
  • Time for your questions …….
  • Lunch, tea/coffee etc provided

Date: Saturday 28th April 2018: 10am – 4pm

Central London venue: The Community of St Francis, St Alphege Clergy House, Pocock Street, London SE1 0BJ
Booking essential (by 21st April please)
To book: Contact suecsf@franciscans.org.uk / 020 7928 7121 with your name and contact details.

“The world is my cloister” St Francis of Assisi

MISSION AND EVANGELISM IN SSF

 

How are mission and evangelism lived out practically for Franciscans today? This is a question that we in the First Order Brothers of SSF have been trying to give more attention to in recent times. Over the last couple of years the Brothers’ Mission Group has been renewed with an influx of new brothers into the group and a lot of new ideas about how SSF can be involved in mission and evangelism have emerged.

The Mission Group is an extension of our Annual Brothers’ Meeting (often called ABC) and we try to meet at least three times each year, other than during the ABC meeting in May/June. At these meetings we try to map out how we will be engaged in mission and evangelism.

SSF has for a long time been very well known and respected because of its engagement in traditional parish missions, where one or several brothers and/or sisters would join a mission team in a parish somewhere in the country for one or two weeks of intense teaching and outreach. For various reasons there has been a drop in the number of invitations to parish missions. There have also been changes to the number of brothers and sisters who are available to go away for a week or two for a mission, without putting too much strain on the staffing of the friaries or houses where they live and work.

Because of this, we in the Mission Group have tried in the last couple of years to move away from what might be called a reactive way of looking at mission and evangelism to a more proactive way. In our discussions and in our work we have been trying to find new ways of encouraging brothers and sisters to look at mission and evangelism. Instead of waiting for an invitation to come for us to do something, we want to find opportunities ourselves to spread the good news. One thing that has caught our attention in the Mission Group is a new missionary initiative called Jesus Shaped People (which you can read more about in Revd Gordon Dey’s article). Our hope is that we in the Mission Group and brothers and sisters in SSF might feel called to get involved with this initiative.

Of course, mission and evangelism take place all the time wherever we as Franciscans happen to be. In our bigger friaries the opportunities to evangelise those who come to visit us are endless, whether it is through our worship in chapel, informal conversations around the dinner table or through spiritual direction. In smaller friaries in urban areas we are often involved in local projects, including our parish churches, youth work, ministry to asylum seekers and refugees. Also, just wandering the streets where we live wearing our habits is quite a strong statement about what we are about and what we believe in.

I would like to share with you, the readers, a bit about my own experiences of being engaged in mission and evangelism in an urban setting.

During my time as a Franciscan brother I have had the privilege of being involved with a great variety of different kinds of ministries, and there have been a lot of opportunities to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people I have encountered. The ministry that I have felt to be one of the most fruitful has been my work with young people. I have had many great experiences working with young people particularly in Newcastle and in Leeds. Even though it can be very hard work at times, it has also been very rewarding and has often filled me a great deal of joy. It has been a very joyful experience to encourage young people to learn more about God and to develop their own relationship with God.

For the last three years I have lived in urban areas of deprivation, and a common characteristic of these areas has been not only financial difficulties for many of the residents, but also family instability. Many of the young people I come across in my ministry are from severely dysfunctional families and they often have very little stability in their lives and very little hope for the future. It is in situations like these that the Church has the potential to influence these young people’s lives by  bringing stability and a sense of family; it can also bring hope to those who are feeling hopeless and, maybe most importantly, it can communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to people.

It is a great privilege to be able to accompany young people on their way to Christ, even though it is often not a very straight path for them. It gives me special joy to realise that the young people I have spent countless hours with and put a lot of effort into are actually making progress and it becomes clear that all the work has not been in vain. I have also had the privilege of being able to guide many people from a non-Christian background to faith in Jesus Christ.

I have been very blessed being part of the Mission Group for these last couple of years and being able to reflect together with my brothers about what it means for us Franciscans today to be involved in mission and evangelism. I hope that we will continue to be inspired by the life and witness of our holy father Francis and, like him, be able to preach the good news to those we encounter.  f

 

Brother David SSF lives in Leeds and is involved in the various ministries associated with St Aidan’s Church, Harehills.

 

 

FRANCIS, POLITICS AND URBAN MISSION

 

We know from the stories of Francis’ life that in his time Europe was undergoing significant changes. Although Muslim and Christian armies would continue to fight over the possession of the holy sites of the Middle East for another century, away from the battlegrounds, transport was becoming safer, trade was burgeoning, and merchants such as Francis’ father were beginning to displace the old aristocracy as the most significant secular figures in society. Wealth was steadily shifting away from the landed farming estates towards production in the cities and towns. A new societal order presented an opportunity for a new form of the religious life.

Francis was the man God called to bring it to birth. Instead of following the traditional monastic pattern by withdrawing to remote locations and building a monastic economy on agriculture, he set up small urban households whose daily needs were met by begging. His friars’ life was centred upon preaching the Good News to the townspeople through simple words and direct acts of kindness.

Was Francis an astute politician? I’m sure he would have been appalled at such an appellation. However, he managed to be one of the greatest critics of the way the church was failing his generation, whilst remaining lauded as one of its most loyal servants. He was equally adept at negotiating with the papacy, using his friends and allies at court, as he was at grandstanding outside luxurious banquets, in some of the earliest examples of a one man political demonstration. His simple authenticity and Christ-likeness allowed him to build bridges across the greatest divides, even to the extent of crossing the Crusader battle lines at Damietta and befriending Sultan Malik al-Kamil in his own tent. Francis proved that true revolution often comes from within the structures, not without.

The Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion are designed to help us to engage with the largely urban and deeply politicised society of our present century whilst being true to the gospel. The life of our founder saint, who sought answers to such questions in his own day, can help us along our journey.

One of the Five Marks of Mission is ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’. As a newly appointed bishop I was taken to visit a garden centre, where there was a display of many different shapes and sizes of Francis, variously accompanied by birds, tame wolves, or other flora and fauna. Yet Francis’ commitment to loving the creation for the sake of its Creator went far beyond preaching to the birds or picking up worms from the footpath. He offers us a true theology of creatureliness. This does much more than dismiss exponents of millennialism that would have us exhaust the Earth’s resources so that Christ would return sooner. It is equally critical of the inherent dualism of many theologies of stewardship, which place humanity over and against creation rather than locating us as fully part of it. We are more than God’s gardeners; we are part of the fruits of the garden itself. Here is the basis for a greener theology, and it poses for us a sharp question that I find myself wrestling with both as a bishop and as one of the governors of the Church Commissioners with their £7 billion plus of investments. How do we address, in God’s name, a society that consumes no more than one planet’s worth of resources? 

Another of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission is that we should ‘respond to human need by loving service’. The hallmark of Francis’ poverty is that it was freely chosen. He freely embraced the need to rely on others to provide even the most basic daily necessities, and pressed that same rigorous poverty upon his communities. However, his attitude to the need he met in others was markedly different. This latter poverty he sought to counter in whatever way he could, even if that meant tearing his cloak in two or giving up what little had just been given to him. Whilst choosing to beg alms was a spiritual discipline, being forced into poverty was degrading and dehumanizing. Just as much medieval theology assumed that those who were destitute were being punished for their sins, so today those who beg in our streets, or turn up at our foodbanks, are ranked among the guilty. Either they are culpable for their plight, through profligacy, addiction or fecklessness, or their poverty is presumed to be pretence. In the years after the First World War, a number of devout Anglican men were called by God to minister to the wayfarers who were pushed from town to town every few days in desperate search for jobs that their wounded or shell-shocked state kept ever beyond reach. It should not surprise us that they turned to Francis for their inspiration and began what we know as the First Order. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a society that no longer seeks to blame and punish the poor, nor to make the innocent suffer for fear that anyone might be pulling a trick on us? 

I still draw regularly on Francis’ meeting with the Sultan at Damietta as a sign of how, even at the most difficult times, it is important to maintain communications and mutual respect. But this wasn’t the only example of the saint working for reconciliation. He famously added a verse to his Canticle of Brother Sun to commemorate his calling together of the mayor and bishop of Assisi, to heal their divisions. And my favourite story for telling in school assemblies is of how he reconciled the Wolf of Gubbio and the townspeople, so that both might have a better and happier life thereafter. Helping people to see beyond their own immediate interests and perceptions, and to look at a situation through the eyes of another is probably even more vital today than it was when Francis began to practice such skills 800 years ago. It, too, links to one of our Five Marks of Mission, ‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation’. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a society that grounds justice and transforms itself through reconciliation?

Whilst I’m told that the famous phrase often attributed to St Francis, ‘Preach the Gospel. Use words if you have to’, is of less than certain origin, it’s easy to see how it became attached to him. Both in his daily life and in the Rule he wrote for his first companions, he sought to be a living example of gospel living. Again and again, when he was expected to preach, instead he performed some memorable action, more profound than any words. When we read the first of the Five Marks of Mission, ‘To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom’, we learn from Francis that the most powerful words we use will be those that are in harmony with the things that we do. The disillusionment that many in our society have towards both politics and religion is, I believe, grounded in the accusation of hypocrisy. We are not seen to behave in line with what we preach. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a faith that is authentically revealed by our deeds and our words?

The last of the Five Marks of Mission is, ‘To teach, baptise and nurture new believers’. Its emphasis is on the process of formation, which follows on from conversion and begins the lifelong task of growing into holiness. Monastic communities are, at their very heart, formational communities. My role as chair of the Advisory Council of the Church of England, working with both traditional and new monasticism, is centred on enabling our Religious Communities to be places where such formation into holiness can most effectively take place. Francis nurtured his companions with both a firmness of purpose and a deeply pastoral gentleness. He challenged the brother who wanted to own a prayer book, but voluntarily broke his own strict fast in order to eat with a member of the community who was distraught with hunger. Such ministry is essentially relational where, in the human encounter, side by side,  we explore God’s call upon us. It has been my privilege to act as a novice counsellor to a number of new tertiaries over the years. Together we have talked, studied, reflected and discerned what it means to follow Jesus after the example of St Francis. In a complex urban society we often find ourselves members of a number of separate communities such as parish, family and workplace, which are seeking to form us in different ways. In setting up the Third Order, Francis gave weight to this multifaceted living in a way that no one had previously done. He found a way in which those inspired by his charism could be formed not just for living in community but for living beyond it. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a way of being community that nurtures and forms us into those who can transform society? f

Copyright Paul Heyes Photography Limited.
** FREE TO USE IMAGES **
The new Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev David Walker, outside Manchester Cathedral. Picture by Paul Heyes, Wednesday June 5, 2013.

David Walker TSSF is the Bishop of Manchester and Chair of the Advisory Council for Religious Communities.

 

 

THINKING BIBLICALLY ABOUT ISLAM – IDA GLASER WITH HANNAH KAY

This book is about reading the Bible in the context of Islam, rather than dialogue or evangelism. The authors draw upon international experience, and current involvement in the Centre for Muslim Christian Studies of which Glaser is the Director, in Oxford.

A multilayered Biblical framework is introduced through Genesis 1-11; human beings created in God’s image: but fallen, as with Cain, Babel and Noah’s neighbours in seeking land and power. The flood is God’s judgment, a reversal of creation. But in tension with his mercy, God accepts sacrifices and makes a covenant. This tension will be resolved in the cross.  Here is a pattern for understanding all sorts of people including Muslims. This leads to a critical comparison with the Qur’anic accounts of Cain and Abel, Babel and Noah.

The important second section focuses on the Transfiguration of Jesus in relation to Elijah, Moses, messianic expectations, and the cross. Jesus deals with the powers of evil, restores people to their right minds, and presents them to the heavenly Father. This prepares for a comparative study of parallel Islamic material.

In Part 3 is a study of Islam in the light of Genesis and the Transfiguration. The Qur’an refers to Elijah, Moses and other Biblical characters, and is the self authenticating revelation to the prophet Muhammad. In thinking about the Qur’an, Muhammad, the Ummah (community), Shariah (law), the authors recognize agreements with the Bible as well as differences: Jesus is referred to as Messiah but does not die on the cross or rise from the dead. Muhammad as The Prophet is given priority over Jesus.

Section 4, Transformation, states ‘the cross is the answer to the problems in human nature seen in the flood story’ It is the acceptable sacrifice.  In Islamic thinking, there is no need for this sacrifice as God can, by his mercy, simply forgive sin, and rescue Jesus from evildoers and take him straight to Paradise. I consider that the authors’ latter assertions need further sensitive examination by Christians and Muslims separately and together. This should not diminish the book’s detailed and delicate understanding of Islam within the embrace of God’s love for us all.

Donald Reece

Oxford

 

 

PILGRIMAGE OF AWAKENING; THE EXTRAORDINARY LIVES OF MURRAY AND MARY ROGERS – MARY VT CATTAN

This book is written with great sensitivity towards the characters involved, yet in a style that makes this book a real page-turner. Mary and Murray Rogers, he newly ordained, set off as Christian missionaries to India in 1946. The world they met there shook them and drew them in unexpected directions from which there was no return, but throughout life challenged them. Mary and Murray thought that to live simply like their poor neighbours was the authentic missionary call, but this was quickly changed with their first contact with Gandhi’s ashram, and they set out to build their own Christian ashram. This led to ‘awakening’ in interfaith dialogue. Murray’s zest and energy drove him to ever-increasing contacts with Hinduism and Buddhism. Mary steadily supported him, and when Heather Sandeman joined them in their ashram, the threesome became a force to be reckoned with.

The book makes liberal use of letters by all three to depict their situation and their personal spiritual pilgrimage and inner struggles, especially Mary, who gave up her care for their three children with a heavy heart.

Their openness to all people, especially the poor, and Murray’s increasing outspokenness on issues of justice and equity made it necessary for the little community to leave India and settle first in Jerusalem, then Hong Kong, Canada, and finally return to the UK.

The book shows very clearly how ordinary people can become extraordinary when listening to their inner call and responding with unfailing dedication, despite hesitations and seemingly impossible obstacles.

Verena Tschudin TSSF

 

THE ESTABLISHMENT. AND HOW THEY GET AWAY WITH IT – OWEN JONES

This book offers a most shocking and insightful view behind the scenes of British politics. It is mainly based on interviews with a large range of powerful people and academics. What might appear like a conspiracy theory is simply a different interpretation of facts that are out in the open. Owen Jones presents the hypothesis that Big Corporations have a suffocating grip on political decision making in this country, steering the process to profit their own vested interests. This is not only undemocratic, but also to the peril of economic prospects for most other people. The Establishment in Jones’ view consists not only of the 1% on the top, but also of the stakeholders that help to create this authoritarian twist of a democracy.

And he covers them one by one. He starts with the outriders, a network of academics and think tank researchers that slowly prepared the ground from the 1950s onward and are still crucial to justify the status quo. He carries on by showing to what a disturbing extent the political elite is in the pocket of the Corporate Sector, through a string of material and immaterial rewards. One of the more extreme cases he quotes is of a politician who received a million pounds in payments from various sources during  two years in Parliament alone (on top of his MP salary, obviously). What might be called a legitimate remuneration for extra-curricular activity, Jones reveals as really nothing less than corruption.

Jones goes on to show how the media throw themselves behind this, pursuing the interests of their rich owners. He also demonstrates how the independence and economic prospects of journalists are weakened, whilst their work load ever increases, leaving less and less time for background research. Most of the news is really public relations tactics. The police have helped aggressively to build this new Britain, only to find themselves the victims of financial cuts, when they were considered expendable.

Owen Jones show how the ‘Big 4’ Accountancy Firms are drawn in to write blurry legislation, which they then use in turn to achieve large scale tax evasion for their clients. As a pattern, these big companies at first don’t pay their tax bill at all. They let their debt build up to a substantial amount, and then they enter into negotiations. The Big 4 sell their contacts to HMRC to achieve ‘sweet heart deals’ for their clients. Jones demonstrates how privatisation really means that profitable chunks of state activity are sold off, whilst the costly ones remain public. Consider the rail system: private companies provide the low cost train services and get the money from ticket sales, with subsidies on top. Meanwhile, the state has to fund the expensive building and upkeep of the rail network. Today, the government after inflation spends six times more on rail, than before privatisation!

Jones goes on to highlight how contracting out of public services to private companies usually leads to a sharp decline in workers’ rights and pay, whilst the quality of the service deteriorates. But despite the fact, which watchdogs constantly show, that private contractors don’t fulfil their obligations, contracts usually get renewed. Privately run public services are wanted politically. Despite all the anti-state rhetoric, private companies earn handsomely from the public sector.

This book is disturbing. And well worth a read.

Robert SSF

CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS AND JEWS – MONA SIDDIQUI

Professor Mona Siddiqui, a speaker on BBC Thought for the Day, is empathetic in her exposition of Christianity as well as Islam.  She introduces Muhammad as apostle of Law and Prophecy; ‘a prophet reveals the mighty hand of God in events; both the sign and the prophet are sacred.’ While quoting Quranic references to Jesus as prophet of the end times, she recognizes that the Gospel story of Jesus gives a critically prophetic view of the contemporary social order.

Her historical overview covers debates between Islam and Oriental Orthodox Churches. She presents Islamic monotheism, and Christian doctrines of the Trinity, incarnation and crucifixion.

The seventy Quranic references to Mary are an example to all believers.

Chapters 5, of Love and Law, and 6, Siddiqui’s personal reflections on the cross, are a goldmine for contemporary sympathetic dialogue amongst Christians and Muslims. ‘From an Islamic perspective it is Jesus’ humanity, the new consciousness he brought with his re-ordering of the social order, which continues to redeem us, not his death.’ Siddiqui quotes the letter to the Hebrews 10.16-17; ‘This is the covenant I will establish… I will put my laws in their hearts and write them in their minds, their sins and evildoing I will remember no more.’ She quotes Rowan Williams:  ‘Since God is the victim of human injury, then there is beyond all our sin a love that is inexhaustible.’  Also Ali Merad  ‘… the believer will experience victory over the forces of evil.  Islam refuses to accept the tragic image of the Passion… because it would imply that God has failed’.

Siddiqui has sat openly before the cross in Church; ‘while the cross speaks to me, it does not draw me in… there are other ways to come to redemption’.  The prayerful model should be pursued.  Muslims and Christians being at prayer in silence with each other.  Prayer is an illuminating companion to our theological understanding.

Donald Reece

Oxford

 

LIFE IN THE PSALMS: CONTEMPORARY MEANING IN ANCIENT TEXTS – PATRICK WOODHOUSE

The Psalms are the bedrock of Christian prayer and worship, having been the foundation prayers of the Jewish people, and recited by Jesus in his living and dying. R.M. Benson, in his 1901 commentary, called them the ‘War-Songs of the Prince of Peace’.  Here we have a series of meditations on the Psalms, not so much a commentary as a number of reflective essays exploring the meaning of the Psalms for today.

The author of the book, the Revd. Patrick Woodhouse, previously a Canon of Wells Cathedral, will be well-known to some readers of franciscan, as Patrick  has been a friend of the community at Hilfield Friary for many years. His sermons have graced many a Sunday morning Eucharist in the friary chapel.

Although structured as a Lent book, with six weeks of five readings each, it can profitably be used at any time of the year. Each chapter prints out a Psalm, offers reflections based on the author’s experience or quoting writers he has been influenced by, such as Etty Hillesum.  Most helpfully he guides the reader in a kind of lectio divina or sacred reading of the text, highlighting particular verses or phrases to accompany the reader throughout the day.

One particular insight that has stayed with me is the likelihood that many of the Psalms were composed as prayers before battle.  I have always struggled with the juxtaposition of expressions of sacred awe and violent curses that repeatedly interweave the text.  The latter have been bracketed in our current Daily Office book, perhaps seen as additions by a later more vindictive psalmist, and we ourselves at Glasshampton omit them in public recitation.  But, in private at least, perhaps we should indeed see the connection between the two moods: the creation fills us with awe, and we rejoice that our lives are miraculous, because we stand at the threshold of imminent suffering and death.  (And, reading the requests for intercessory prayer left by guests, when are we not at this threshold ourselves?)  These are poems to be recited in trenches on the eve of the Battle of the Somme, not as a coda to afternoon tea; war-songs of the Prince of Peace indeed.

Nicholas Alan SSF

BEING DISCIPLES: ESSENTIALS OF CHRISTIAN LIFE – ROWAN WILLIAMS

This is a marvellous little book! At only 86 pages one would not expect it to contain too many ideas, but this is the writing of Rowan Williams, so almost every page is thoughtfully crafted and packed to bursting. Made up of six chapters, Williams accessibly writes about all those things we know we ought to do but manage to keep putting off for a more comfortable life. He encourages contemplation and action, embracing stability and change, getting to know Jesus personally through the Bible and prayer, loving tradition and the sacraments. His challenges are gentle but firm and phrased in such a way that one imagines that he has the same struggles, without it becoming a testimony of them; and these challenges are relevant to everyone from the newest Christian to the one who has been faithful for many decades. This makes the book personally uncomfortable in places, but it is so full of hope and joy it becomes a positive invitation rather than a telling-off. Williams draws from a range of historical sources and stories and acutely interprets them to produce statements that are refreshingly simple old-truths and yet seem new, exciting and revelatory. We, as a Church, are encouraged and challenged to become better disciples of Christ, that we are first and foremost Christians and that to name ourselves thus is to embrace all other Christians as our siblings and all people and creation as beautifully and constantly created by God. This book is a joy to read by oneself, but I think would benefit from being read as a family, friary, tertiary/cell group or church. The only thing that would make it better would be to have Rowan in the room reading it aloud.

 

Christopher Martin SSF

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BROTHER GILES?

Br Giles

Hilfield Friary’s place in the history of Anglican Franciscans is well-known, but the man who founded it in December 1921 has remained stubbornly elusive. So little has been known of Giles’ pre-friar years and he had simply disappeared from records after the mid-1930s. It was always feared he had died anonymously somewhere, perhaps even in a ditch at a roadside. The founder of Hilfield – as his successor Brother Douglas always insisted in calling him – was as enigmatic in death as he had been in life. Would answers ever be found to the questions of his early life and when he died?

At the time of writing This Poor Sort, it was known that Giles had been born Edward Kelly Evans in a small town in Ireland on 17 December 1879. There was much more detail about his role in the beginning of the friary. Brother Giles was a former novice from the Society of the Divine Compassion (1911-13), who had begun a ministry on the roads with wayfarers before the First World War. His experiment was cut short by the war, in which he served as a stretcher bearer in France before responding to a request for men to serve as NCOs in the King’s African Rifles in modern day Kenya/Tanzania.

Returning to Britain in 1918, he had resumed his former itinerant life. But  social attitudes to people living on the roads had changed dramatically. Rather than the pre-war scorn, wayfarers had public sympathy, as so many were ex-soldiers. Giles found a groundswell of support for his ministry. At first offered Bartlemas, the medieval leper chapel on the outskirts of Oxford, as a base – a place where he regularly prayed – he finally took on a more ambitious offer. The Earl of Sandwich offered him the collection of buildings at Hilfield, formerly a residential school. Here Giles would found a religious house for friars (Brotherhood of St Francis of Assisi), as well as a farm where wayfarers could be rehabilitated through work on the land.

Giles and his first novices went to Hilfield on 16/17 December 1921. The initial financial generosity of patrons was soon used up on equipping the farm and on living expenses. The wayfarers who came were not, for the most part, skilled in market gardening or farming – and neither were the brothers. By September 1922, debts had mounted alarmingly and the experiment was in danger of collapse. All the responsibility fell on Brother Giles and he was under great stress.

Late in September 1922, he was caught in a sexual embrace with a visiting undergraduate from an Oxford college. The man who discovered this was a retired army major, who had brought his family to live in one of the houses at the friary, so he could help the brothers. Major Lloyd had a traditional view of morality, in which homosexuality was absolutely taboo. Sexual activity between men was a criminal offence and the student was under the age of 21 and therefore in 1922 was regarded as a ‘minor’. Major Lloyd could have had Giles arrested. Instead he took him to the rail station and told him to leave and never come back.

Brother Giles returned to the roads, helping out in parishes in the next decade or so, spending short periods with friends before moving on, and spending many hours in silent prayer in churches he visited. The last recorded sighting was with Canon Charles Hutchinson, a vicar in London, in the mid-1930s, by which time Giles was viewed as ‘a sick, sad eccentric’, physically and mentally frail.

That would have been the end of our knowledge of an important figure in SSF history if it were not for the advent of new records, not available in the 1990s.

The Irish census of 1901 is one, and we find the 21-year-old Edward Evans living in Dublin. His widowed mother was living off rents and Edward and his siblings were living in a prosperous part of the city. He had a job as a clerk but also described himself as a student.  His family were all ‘Church of Ireland’, but Edward described himself as a ‘Bible Christian’, which was a branch of Methodism that stressed Bible study. Edward clearly took faith very seriously at this age.

The local Church of Ireland parish was St Bartholomew’s, one of the ‘high church’ parishes in the city. The vicar of the parish had founded a small women’s community in 1892 that had its purpose-built convent at the end of the very road in which the Evans family lived. The sisters ran a school, and Giles would have seen them in their blue serge habits and been aware, therefore, that Anglicans had recovered Religious Life. Maybe it was the sisters who told him of the Society of the Divine Compassion whose Franciscan novitiate he joined around 1911.

We now have a better understanding of Giles’s background, but what of his final years? In the recently-issued 1939 Register in which people were counted soon after the Second World War broke out, we find that ‘Edward Evans’ is a common name. By including the name ‘Kelly’, used by some of his family in 1901 to create a double-barrelled surname, we find that a man with the correct date of birth and listed as a former KAR soldier was living in Poole, Dorset, with another retired army man and his wife. It is impossible to know if Giles was staying with them on a long-term basis or simply resting there for a few weeks.

In the Second World War, the government was keen to avoid having anyone tramping the roads, as this would have been a perfect ‘cover’ for espionage. So those who were fit were sent to work on the land or making munitions, while those who were unwell were taken into care, the beginning of the welfare state that emerged formally after 1945. Giles, known as ‘Edward Kelly-Evans’, is listed on the Register as being ‘incapacitated’.

One of the new homes for men suffering the ailments of old age and dementia was established after the war at Stopham House, in the west Sussex village of Stopham. It was to here that Giles was eventually transferred. With three proper meals a day and sufficient medical care, Giles would have recovered physically, even if mentally he remained impaired or confused.

Giles died at Stopham House on 25 April 1963 at the age of 83, from heart failure. He outlived Douglas and Algy and the other Franciscan pioneers in the Church of England by some years. Sadly no one knew he lived so long. Those who tried to trace him in the 1950s drew a blank. Yet nothing can erase the role he played in establishing Hilfield Friary, for Douglas would never have gone there first or started a religious community of friars. It is good to know at last that, despite all his sufferings, Giles did not die alone or uncared for. A picture of him now graces the walls of the refectory at Hilfield along with Douglas and Algy, co-founders of the Society of St Francis. f

Dr Petà Dunstan was, until her retirement, Librarian of the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. She is a Fellow of St Edmund’s College in Cambridge and has written widely on the subject of Anglican Religious Life. Her book ‘This Poor Sort: History of the European Province of the Society of St Francis’ was published in 2011.

FOCUS ON NEWCASTLE

Surrounded by Geordies, in a fairly secular area at the East End of Newcastle, there is an island of holiness (maybe just in our perception); at least, the scattered faithful have shown such a warm appreciation since our arrival in 2013, that it is hard to live up to it. Statistically in the poorest 5% of English parishes, people possess riches of friendliness, making it pleasant to live here.

In the short time that our friary has been in existence we’ve seen quite a bit of upheaval. The most dramatic occurred when Damian had to leave the house suddenly because he had become ill with a brain tumour. Although God has called him to rest, we continue to live with his legacy. It is heartening how often Damian comes up in conversations with all sorts of people. The other great legacy in the area is the long ministry of Alnmouth Friary, which virtually everybody seems to know. Often people ask: ‘So are you going all the way up to Alnmouth tonight?’ Both give us a strong building block, as people gradually become aware of our work and existence.

In the few years we have been here, there has been quite a turnover of Brothers. Robert has now been here for two years; Eric Michael arrived in September last year and in March, we were strengthened by Edmund. We potter on, and have slowly formed a happy family. We work hard to build up community by regular sharing of our thoughts and experiences.

Robert spends four days a week as part of the Chaplaincy Team in St Oswald’s Hospice, where he enjoys working with the rest of the team. It forms a harmonious unit, and it appears to the team that God has brought them together for a purpose. With all the challenges that the Hospice has to face, which are fairly similar to those of any other organisation in the charity/health sector, this has been a great source of strength and support. Robert experiences it as a great privilege to listen to the patients and relatives and to help them nurture their spirituality. St Oswald’s is a massive place where thousands of people go in and out. The response to the habit and the conversations that grow out of it, are another enjoyable feature for Robert. Sadly, meetings seem to take up an ever increasing amount of time. Most of Mondays, being his in-house day, Robert spends on the computer, catching up with various administration tasks.

Eric Michael arrived from New York (USA) and took to volunteering with the One World Shop at St Thomas the Martyr Church in the city centre, working with the youth on the streets of the Byker estate, and volunteering at St Silas Church, as well as the occasional speaking engagement.  However, he had a heart attack earlier in 2016 and has had to give time to recovering, and to attend to a different pace, both physically and mentally.  He has resumed work at St Silas’ and the One World Shop, is learning to do therapeutic massage and is also preparing to volunteer with refugees.

Edmund has enriched the house with his usual joviality and brought a touch of lightness to us. Laughter is on the increase. He supports the local parish of St Anthony’s next to our house and also gives a hand at the community café in St Michael’s, Byker. He also brought his joy of gardening to support the local churches, whilst sharing in their prayer life. Eddy’s productive chaos prevents us from taking ourselves too seriously and in getting too rigid in our routines. f

‘Prayer Spaces in Schools’ project at Marden High School, Newcastle.

A project that Edmund and Eric were involved in during June 2016, at the invitation of Fr Adrian Hughes of St George’s Church, Cullercoats, was ‘Prayer Spaces in Schools’.

At first, they wondered about the possibility of it, but in fact, with a training evening as preparation, there was a whole week at Marden High School, a non-church school, for   11-17 year-olds. Class by class, the whole school came, for an hour at a time, to a large classroom set out with about 15 creative activities to encourage individual reflection on such issues as forgiveness, injustice, thankfulness, self-worth and, ‘If God walked in, what would you ask, right now?’ The big gazebo in the middle of the room had lots of questions clipped up by day five. Others wrote their nickname in a sand-tray, rubbed it out and wrote the name they would like to be known by. Another reflection involved holding a rock (fresh off Cullercoats Beach) in their hand, putting it gently in a big bowl of clear water if they wanted to forgive some hurt, or else lay it aside.

The teens, boys and girls, arrived in groups and were invited to use the space, with the invitation: ‘You may be a Christian, you may not; you may want to explore; you may not – but think it’s better than an hour’s maths; you may want to do your own thing, but please respect each other’, and they did.  Everyone got involved. It was something perhaps that ordinarily, school barely touches on; OFSTED gives its approval, but some head teachers need to test it out to prove that it is possible.

The feeling among those who had set it up and who were there to step in to explain or reassure if need be, was that here was a beginning – a beginning of beginnings possibly – towards the Gospel, for a whole range of young people for whom their normal contact with the Brothers and clergy present would be at most a passing “Hi” in the street. Just a single week (that was part of the careful structure of it all) but the hope is that something similar will happen again.

To explore further, see: www.prayerspacesinschools.com

 

DONALD SSF

Benedict writes

 

On 19th March 2017, Brother Donald will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his Profession in Vows, an event achieved by so few of us! We hope to mark this event in an appropriate way in consultation with Donald.

Donald has been a very active brother over the years, experiencing the early days of SSF in Papua New Guinea, and on his return to the UK led many missions, was an accomplished preacher, and a manic driver as he rushed from place to place! For many years he was a prison chaplain, but in all his active ministry he was a zealous evangelist. He eventually settled down to live in Plaistow at 85 Crofton Road and although he has reached the age of 91 he still hasn’t lost the fervour, making a number of local people Companions of the Society or encouraging them to look to the Third Order, and a more recent joy was to bring Vincent, who lived also with the brothers at 85 Crofton Road, to the Christian faith. Donald baptised Vincent and encouraged him in his faith journey to ask to test his vocation in the First Order of SSF.

Many of us will have our own memories of Donald but some of his reflections he published in a booklet about his life as a friar, which may be obtained from Hilfield Friary.

 

 

MISSION AND EVANGELISM IN SSF

How are mission and evangelism lived out practically for Franciscans today? This is a question that we in the First Order Brothers of SSF have been trying to give more attention to in recent times. Over the last couple of years the Brothers’ Mission Group has been renewed with an influx of new brothers into the group and a lot of new ideas about how SSF can be involved in mission and evangelism have emerged.

The Mission Group is an extension of our Annual Brothers’ Meeting (often called ABC) and we try to meet at least three times each year, other than during the ABC meeting in May/June. At these meetings we try to map out how we will be engaged in mission and evangelism.

SSF has for a long time been very well known and respected because of its engagement in traditional parish missions, where one or several brothers and/or sisters would join a mission team in a parish somewhere in the country for one or two weeks of intense teaching and outreach. For various reasons there has been a drop in the number of invitations to parish missions. There have also been changes to the number of brothers and sisters who are available to go away for a week or two for a mission, without putting too much strain on the staffing of the friaries or houses where they live and work.

Because of this, we in the Mission Group have tried in the last couple of years to move away from what might be called a reactive way of looking at mission and evangelism to a more proactive way. In our discussions and in our work we have been trying to find new ways of encouraging brothers and sisters to look at mission and evangelism. Instead of waiting for an invitation to come for us to do something, we want to find opportunities ourselves to spread the good news. One thing that has caught our attention in the Mission Group is a new missionary initiative called Jesus Shaped People (which you can read more about in Revd Gordon Dey’s article). Our hope is that we in the Mission Group and brothers and sisters in SSF might feel called to get involved with this initiative.

Of course, mission and evangelism take place all the time wherever we as Franciscans happen to be. In our bigger friaries the opportunities to evangelise those who come to visit us are endless, whether it is through our worship in chapel, informal conversations around the dinner table or through spiritual direction. In smaller friaries in urban areas we are often involved in local projects, including our parish churches, youth work, ministry to asylum seekers and refugees. Also, just wandering the streets where we live wearing our habits is quite a strong statement about what we are about and what we believe in.

I would like to share with you, the readers, a bit about my own experiences of being engaged in mission and evangelism in an urban setting.

During my time as a Franciscan brother I have had the privilege of being involved with a great variety of different kinds of ministries, and there have been a lot of opportunities to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people I have encountered. The ministry that I have felt to be one of the most fruitful has been my work with young people. I have had many great experiences working with young people particularly in Newcastle and in Leeds. Even though it can be very hard work at times, it has also been very rewarding and has often filled me a great deal of joy. It has been a very joyful experience to encourage young people to learn more about God and to develop their own relationship with God.

For the last three years I have lived in urban areas of deprivation, and a common characteristic of these areas has been not only financial difficulties for many of the residents, but also family instability. Many of the young people I come across in my ministry are from severely dysfunctional families and they often have very little stability in their lives and very little hope for the future. It is in situations like these that the Church has the potential to influence these young people’s lives by  bringing stability and a sense of family; it can also bring hope to those who are feeling hopeless and, maybe most importantly, it can communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to people.

It is a great privilege to be able to accompany young people on their way to Christ, even though it is often not a very straight path for them. It gives me special joy to realise that the young people I have spent countless hours with and put a lot of effort into are actually making progress and it becomes clear that all the work has not been in vain. I have also had the privilege of being able to guide many people from a non-Christian background to faith in Jesus Christ.

I have been very blessed being part of the Mission Group for these last couple of years and being able to reflect together with my brothers about what it means for us Franciscans today to be involved in mission and evangelism. I hope that we will continue to be inspired by the life and witness of our holy father Francis and, like him, be able to preach the good news to those we encounter.  f

Brother David SSF lives in Leeds and is involved in the various ministries associated with St Aidan’s Church, Harehills.

 

FRANCISCAN EVANGELISM: TO CARE FOR THE PLANET

 

‘Francis preaching to the birds’ from the 13th Century Chronica major of Matthew Paris

In order to get a handle on Franciscan Evangelism, we need (as so often) to start with Thomas of Celano. In the recently Rediscovered Life, (see footnote), Celano confirms that after their form of life had been approved by Innocent III, Francis and the brothers stayed for a while near Orte. There they made an ‘alliance with sacred poverty and signed a perpetual pact that they might more sweetly cling to her’. This was a resolution not to return to the cut-throat values of the mercantile and aristocratic society that they had all left, not without a struggle.

There in Orte, Celano goes on, ‘they discussed together whether they should live among men or gather together in solitary places’. Bonaventure, in his account of this, makes it clear that the deciding factor was the example of the Son of God who did not choose to pass his life in contemplation, but chose the exhausting and stressful path of sharing the Good News with the rest of us. Celano then slips in the challenge that ‘first Francis persuaded himself by his works, then he persuaded others with words and, fearing no rebuke, he boldly spoke the truth’. The truth, as we all know to our cost, needs to begin with ourselves. When that condition of integrity is established within us, then everything re-orders itself around us.

At this early point, Francis began to speak with the bird and animal kingdoms, an aspect of his ministry which, quite rightly, filled his contemporaries with wonder. It is not by chance or sentiment that there are so many early artistic representations of these incidents, beginning with our own English author and artist, Matthew Paris, in 1244. While none of us can take shortcuts to this harmony, our contemporaries certainly look to Franciscans to show how to care for our planet and those who share it with us. They rightly expect concern and involvement from us. In the Rediscovered Life, Celano shows that for Francis this renewed relationship was not an emotional response, but something more profound and evangelical, based on the Gospel of St Mark, which ends with the clear injunction to ‘preach the good news to all creation’.(Mk 16.16) Our current ecological crisis reveals that we have failed to do this in too many respects and Pope Francis has gone so far as to say that our planet is now one of the poor, and care for Mother Earth is a corporal work of mercy in the truest sense. Francis, through Celano, shows us a wholly new relationship with the kingdoms of flora and fauna, which is exactly what our Sister Mother Earth and all who live here with us, need at this time.

Even a cursory reflection on this raises two profound questions, and both are relevant to Franciscan evangelism. One is about fidelity to the Gospel, asking if those who work to protect and cherish God’s work in creation are not also evangelists in the true meaning of the word. The second challenging question is whether Franciscans are in the forefront of this evangelisation and these works, at least by example in daily living, and if not, why not? There is room here for a profound theological exploration of what Christ Jesus meant by preaching the good news to all creation. We have the first ground plan for such a study in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si. That gives us a radical foundation but it needs further unpacking theologically and philo-sophically.

This is surely part of the Franciscan challenge for the coming years. Undoubtedly, there is much wrong in our attitudes to the animal, plant and feathered world. It is also easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the problems and vested interests, but each one of us, like Francis, preaches more by example than by words. Even in Franciscan houses, we have not always been good news for creation. This gospel imperative is not necessarily a summons to be in the forefront of demonstrations and protests (though it might include that). Rather it is a summons to live as people who truly and deeply believe that we have all come from the hand of one Creator. Every living being is a brother or sister. Too often we have been toxic members of our family. The question is not ‘What would Francis do?’ but rather ‘What do we do in the light of what we have learnt from Francis’?

The way into this integrity must lie through obedience to the Spirit. Celano says that ‘as the glorious father, friend of Christ, walked along the way of obedience and perfectly embraced the yoke of divine submission, he obtained great dignity before God in the obedience of creatures’. Celano was of the opinion that by obedience, Francis was restored to original innocence. While we might not be clear about the meaning of that, the message is unmistakable, that he had come into a wholly new relationship with creation because he had completely internalised his belief that everything comes from the hand of God. The evangelical question is this: do we manifest this conviction as we interact with creation, or are we a toxic member of the family of Mother Earth? Does every being on the land entrusted to us receive respect and space? Clearly this poses practical and difficult problems especially for gardeners, land owners and farmers, but we have to grapple with them. Franciscan evangelism will have no impact if respect and justice are not in place. Francis has cleverly manipulated us, because almost every person in the world knows he had a special relationship with creation, and they look to us to show the same. There is a great desire for Franciscan evangelical leadership and more hangs upon it than ever before.  f

Jacques Dalarun, The Rediscovered life of St Francis of Assisi, translated by Timothy Johnson, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2016.

Sr Frances Teresa is a Poor Clare sister and lives in Holllington. She has written and translated several books on Saint Clare.

‘REBUILD MY CHURCH’

Jesus Shaped People is a steadily growing discipleship ‘movement’ that was birthed in 2007 in the grassroots of a large social housing estate in Bradford. Over the past five years it has become embedded in many other similar communities in West Yorkshire and Birmingham, and is being explored in other Anglican dioceses. It describes itself as a ‘Whole Church Discipleship Adventure’ that can enable churches to refresh their vision and establish clear ministry priorities. During the past few years Jesus Shaped People (JSP) and a group of Anglican Franciscans have been finding new common cause and partnership, through interest from the SSF Brothers’ ‘Mission Group’.

Until recently my knowledge of St Francis was limited to rudimentary memories of stories describing his relationship with the natural world, a holy man with whom the ‘birds and the bees’ had a special relationship.

All this was to be transformed and extended three years ago when I led a pilgrimage tour of Assisi. This grew in April 2016 by a further visit to Assisi, plus a few days at La Verna, the extraordinary mountain retreat established for Franciscans in Francis’ later years. We were fortunate to have Sister Maureen CSF join us, and benefit from her wealth of knowledge and spiritual insight.

Much remains in both locations that enable Francis’ life and mission to be uncovered. Assisi these days is a bustling place of pilgrimage and religious tourism. It is positioned in the stunningly beautiful setting of the slopes of Mt Subasio, and has Francis and Clare written in just about every stone.

In the time of Francis – the late twelfth and early thirteenth century – the higher you lived up the slopes, the posher you were! He was the ‘half-way up’ product of the new growing and prosperous middle class, and his father aspired for him to benefit from this success. Initially Francis longed to be a knight – it was the later period of the Crusades, a war demanded by papal edict, between Christians and Muslims, which had shown earlier signs of success by the West, but by Francis’ time was increasingly disastrous.

Francis’ early efforts as a soldier were unsuccessful and he was captured during a battle between Perugia and Assisi, and held prisoner in nearby Perugia for a year. Imprisonment seems to have been a salutary experience as Francis returned to Assisi with a new perspective on life. His solitary wanderings over the next year or so in the Assisi countryside increasingly motivated him into a life that had a deep concern for the poor, including the many lepers and other destitute people living in the swampy, mosquito infested plain at the foot of the mountain.

One day Francis found himself in a little broken down church called San Damiano, near the foot of the mountain. He sat in the derelict church and reflected deeply on the crucifix that hung at the front of the church. He describes how in that period of contemplation he heard God’s powerful call to ‘Rebuild my church, which is in ruins.’ It was to be the most significant moment of his life, a command that determined his future vision and direction. However, initially he misunderstood and, like so many of us today, became preoccupied with rebuilding the fabric of the tiny church building. Two other churches were similarly repaired before Francis grasped the enormity of what God was asking of him. The church of his day was in desperate need of spiritual and moral transformation. In addition to being pre-occupied with war in the Middle East, it was also a period when the church’s affluence was enabling vast cathedrals and monasteries to be constructed throughout the Western world.

Francis and his followers were to establish a Christian movement that was a huge contrast to this. They recognised that Jesus’ way of life and ministry priorities needed recapturing as the essential foundation on which God’s kingdom must be built. Over the next twenty years, before his early death in 1226, the Franciscan revolution brought great spiritual refreshment and new vision to the church across Europe and beyond, with Francis even daring to cross the Mediterranean to be an agent for bringing peace to the Middle East. The visit established a trust between the Franciscans and the Saracens that continues to lie behind the role of the Franciscans being guardians of Christian holy sites in the Holy Land today.

Jesus Shaped People can have no better model than Francis for keeping our vision refreshed. It is a very great joy therefore that JSP is establishing a growing partnership with Anglican Franciscans in different parts of the country.

Francis would be delighted that JSP is gaining traction in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the UK – where Franciscan presence is also a priority. Church communities that want to explore adopting JSP usually make contact with a JSP Companion, so that the vision and method of JSP can be explained. Initially this begins with the leadership team of a church, but ownership by the church family is also a vital component, so that there is growing anticipation of transformation in the grass roots of a congregation. At the heart of this is an understanding of discipleship that is based upon a need to recognise Jesus’ ministry priorities, and the intentional adoption of these by a local church.

A date is then set for the launch of a fifteen week JSP programme that enables a congregation to explore five key priorities in the ministry of Jesus, thus beginning a process that leads their church to evaluate its own life, and ensure that what Jesus was about is what his church is about today. It’s a process that gradually becomes embedded in the life of the church, and other resources are steadily growing to ensure churches have plenty to chew on.

We live in days when the call that Francis heard from God to ‘Rebuild my church, which is in ruins’ has great relevance. Francis’ passion to ensure that the example of Jesus was to be the lens through which they understood discipleship is the passion of JSP and the passion of the Franciscan movement. We have much to learn from each other, and much we can do together in transforming the communities that we are called to serve.  We also live in days when the call to ‘rebuild my church, which is in ruins’ is not out of place. And we can be confident that ‘resurrections only happen in graveyards’! We can therefore pray, as did Paul, for a church that was in a fairly ruined state, ‘My little children, for whom I am again in the pains of child birth, until Christ be formed in you.’ (Galatians 4.19) f

Canon Gordon Dey is a retired Anglican priest whose 40-year ministry was spent in large social housing estate communities in east Yorkshire. In addition to overseeing the development of JSP, he regularly leads groups on pilgrimage tours to the Holy Land and other locations. Contact details for more information about Jesus Shaped People: gordondey1@gmail.com  Tel. 01274 674565

www.jesusshapedpeople.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRANCIS, POLITICS AND URBAN MISSION

We know from the stories of Francis’ life that in his time Europe was undergoing significant changes. Although Muslim and Christian armies would continue to fight over the possession of the holy sites of the Middle East for another century, away from the battlegrounds, transport was becoming safer, trade was burgeoning, and merchants such as Francis’ father were beginning to displace the old aristocracy as the most significant secular figures in society. Wealth was steadily shifting away from the landed farming estates towards production in the cities and towns. A new societal order presented an opportunity for a new form of the religious life.

Francis was the man God called to bring it to birth. Instead of following the traditional monastic pattern by withdrawing to remote locations and building a monastic economy on agriculture, he set up small urban households whose daily needs were met by begging. His friars’ life was centred upon preaching the Good News to the townspeople through simple words and direct acts of kindness.

Was Francis an astute politician? I’m sure he would have been appalled at such an appellation. However, he managed to be one of the greatest critics of the way the church was failing his generation, whilst remaining lauded as one of its most loyal servants. He was equally adept at negotiating with the papacy, using his friends and allies at court, as he was at grandstanding outside luxurious banquets, in some of the earliest examples of a one man political demonstration. His simple authenticity and Christ-likeness allowed him to build bridges across the greatest divides, even to the extent of crossing the Crusader battle lines at Damietta and befriending Sultan Malik al-Kamil in his own tent. Francis proved that true revolution often comes from within the structures, not without.

The Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion are designed to help us to engage with the largely urban and deeply politicised society of our present century whilst being true to the gospel. The life of our founder saint, who sought answers to such questions in his own day, can help us along our journey.

One of the Five Marks of Mission is ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’. As a newly appointed bishop I was taken to visit a garden centre, where there was a display of many different shapes and sizes of Francis, variously accompanied by birds, tame wolves, or other flora and fauna. Yet Francis’ commitment to loving the creation for the sake of its Creator went far beyond preaching to the birds or picking up worms from the footpath. He offers us a true theology of creatureliness. This does much more than dismiss exponents of millennialism that would have us exhaust the Earth’s resources so that Christ would return sooner. It is equally critical of the inherent dualism of many theologies of stewardship, which place humanity over and against creation rather than locating us as fully part of it. We are more than God’s gardeners; we are part of the fruits of the garden itself. Here is the basis for a greener theology, and it poses for us a sharp question that I find myself wrestling with both as a bishop and as one of the governors of the Church Commissioners with their £7 billion plus of investments. How do we address, in God’s name, a society that consumes no more than one planet’s worth of resources?

Another of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission is that we should ‘respond to human need by loving service’. The hallmark of Francis’ poverty is that it was freely chosen. He freely embraced the need to rely on others to provide even the most basic daily necessities, and pressed that same rigorous poverty upon his communities. However, his attitude to the need he met in others was markedly different. This latter poverty he sought to counter in whatever way he could, even if that meant tearing his cloak in two or giving up what little had just been given to him. Whilst choosing to beg alms was a spiritual discipline, being forced into poverty was degrading and dehumanizing. Just as much medieval theology assumed that those who were destitute were being punished for their sins, so today those who beg in our streets, or turn up at our foodbanks, are ranked among the guilty. Either they are culpable for their plight, through profligacy, addiction or fecklessness, or their poverty is presumed to be pretence. In the years after the First World War, a number of devout Anglican men were called by God to minister to the wayfarers who were pushed from town to town every few days in desperate search for jobs that their wounded or shell-shocked state kept ever beyond reach. It should not surprise us that they turned to Francis for their inspiration and began what we know as the First Order. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a society that no longer seeks to blame and punish the poor, nor to make the innocent suffer for fear that anyone might be pulling a trick on us?

I still draw regularly on Francis’ meeting with the Sultan at Damietta as a sign of how, even at the most difficult times, it is important to maintain communications and mutual respect. But this wasn’t the only example of the saint working for reconciliation. He famously added a verse to his Canticle of Brother Sun to commemorate his calling together of the mayor and bishop of Assisi, to heal their divisions. And my favourite story for telling in school assemblies is of how he reconciled the Wolf of Gubbio and the townspeople, so that both might have a better and happier life thereafter. Helping people to see beyond their own immediate interests and perceptions, and to look at a situation through the eyes of another is probably even more vital today than it was when Francis began to practice such skills 800 years ago. It, too, links to one of our Five Marks of Mission, ‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation’. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a society that grounds justice and transforms itself through reconciliation?

Whilst I’m told that the famous phrase often attributed to St Francis, ‘Preach the Gospel. Use words if you have to’, is of less than certain origin, it’s easy to see how it became attached to him. Both in his daily life and in the Rule he wrote for his first companions, he sought to be a living example of gospel living. Again and again, when he was expected to preach, instead he performed some memorable action, more profound than any words. When we read the first of the Five Marks of Mission, ‘To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom’, we learn from Francis that the most powerful words we use will be those that are in harmony with the things that we do. The disillusionment that many in our society have towards both politics and religion is, I believe, grounded in the accusation of hypocrisy. We are not seen to behave in line with what we preach. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a faith that is authentically revealed by our deeds and our words?

The last of the Five Marks of Mission is, ‘To teach, baptise and nurture new believers’. Its emphasis is on the process of formation, which follows on from conversion and begins the lifelong task of growing into holiness. Monastic communities are, at their very heart, formational communities. My role as chair of the Advisory Council of the Church of England, working with both traditional and new monasticism, is centred on enabling our Religious Communities to be places where such formation into holiness can most effectively take place. Francis nurtured his companions with both a firmness of purpose and a deeply pastoral gentleness. He challenged the brother who wanted to own a prayer book, but voluntarily broke his own strict fast in order to eat with a member of the community who was distraught with hunger. Such ministry is essentially relational where, in the human encounter, side by side,  we explore God’s call upon us. It has been my privilege to act as a novice counsellor to a number of new tertiaries over the years. Together we have talked, studied, reflected and discerned what it means to follow Jesus after the example of St Francis. In a complex urban society we often find ourselves members of a number of separate communities such as parish, family and workplace, which are seeking to form us in different ways. In setting up the Third Order, Francis gave weight to this multifaceted living in a way that no one had previously done. He found a way in which those inspired by his charism could be formed not just for living in community but for living beyond it. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a way of being community that nurtures and forms us into those who can transform society? f

David Walker TSSF is the Bishop of Manchester and Chair of the Advisory Council for Religious Communities.

Editorial

One of the characteristics of the early Franciscans was their boldness in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ by deeds and words. Francis reportedly said ‘Preach always; if necessary use words’. This issue of franciscan offers some reflections on ways in which evangelism is happening today among Franciscans and attempts to identify some aspects and challenges  that are especially ‘Franciscan’, even though shared by other Christians.

Community Routes

Community Routes

Summer camps

Hilfield Families Camp

Jonathan Herbert writes:

This year’s family camp was attended by nearly 100 people of all ages, some who had been coming for over 40 years and some for the first time.

This year it took the theme of refugees and there was input for all ages on this pressing issue for our country and the church. The pre-teenage group organised a sleep out in the top field in solidarity with those on the move in our world and raised sponsorship money for Brother Johannes and his work with refugees in Calais.

Jonathan led the adult morning workshops, looking at themes of migration, refugees, Gypsies and Travellers and the Scapegoat. Also, Brother Hugh gave an excellent presentation on his time in The ‘Jungle’ in Calais.

The usual programme of a barn dance, variety show, trips to the beach, and so on  were augmented by a new ‘super hero’ day, which meant the Friary played host to Batman, Catwoman Superwoman, the Hulk and many others.

Midweek there was a very moving Taize service with the Chapel filled with candlelight and images of refugees on boats, queuing at borders and in makeshift camps.

The camp concluded with the Sunday Eucharist, with St Francis’ Chapel turned into one big tent, singing Marty Haugen’s hymn ‘Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live … all are welcome in this place ‘.

Hilfield Youth Camp

James Douglas writes:

If there is one lesson I wish churches would learn from McDonald’s and the world of football, then it would be the importance of devoting their resources to attracting the next generation. Therefore, it was with much excitement when I and Br. Micael Cristoffer were once again asked to be a First Order Franciscan presence at this year’s Hilfield Youth Camp, particularly as it’s one of the few occasions during my novitiate where I have an opportunity to spend time investing in the next generation of Christian disciples.

It was of course also in the midst of much fun and laughter a wonderful time to rekindle old friendships as well as a great chance to make new ones. As many readers will be aware there was special significance attached to this year’s camp as it was forty years since the Hilfield Youth Camp began way back in 1976. Hard to imagine that HYC has been going longer than I have been alive!

As ever there was a wide range of pursuits for the young people to be involved in each day. Off-site there were opportunities for various activities and adventures, such as swimming, high ropes, shooting, and archery as well as the annual walk to Cerne Abbas followed by the traditional cream tea.

While on site there was the opportunity for arts, crafts, games, and various forms of entertainment each evening including the end of camp review, providing us with even more opportunities for fun and laughter! Of course one mustn’t forget the daily round of chores for the young people to complete such as washing up, food preparation, and cleaning the showers and loos!

Yet what always strikes me the most in the two youth camps I’ve been involved in is the way the young people absorb themselves in the worship. Whether it’s quietening themselves down to experience the stillness of compline, their imaginative planning of the morning and evening worship sessions, or their engagement with what’s being shared by those leading from the front.

What was very rewarding however was seeing the young people meeting with God, and watching them grow in their faith. Even more moving though was the privilege of being able to share our stories as Franciscan brothers, whilst also having the space to listen to theirs.

We concluded a heartening few days with a fun day to celebrate the youth camp’s fortieth anniversary. It was a most memorable day as former campers were able to join us and to share their testimonies of what God has done in their lives through HYC. So as we give thanks for all God has done in the first forty years let us pray we will see a new generation attracted to following in the ways of our Lord Jesus Christ through another forty years of the Hilfield Youth Camp.

Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage

Michael Jacob writes:

Again this year Joseph Emmanuel and I had the privilege of being present for five days at the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage, held as usual in a field up the road from the Shrine. Again it was muddy, wet at times, dangerously windy at others and the showers were unfit for anything other than getting dirty feet by the end of the week. What a privilege though it was to be there again. To see nearly five hundred young people worshipping God, receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and hearing excellent teaching on the important elements of the Faith. Joseph Emmanuel was assisting with a group of over ninety young people from Yorkshire and Michael Jacob again took up the role of Street Pastor, available on camp to be a listening ear for anybody, youth or adult who might want to talk.

The theme this year was ‘Mercy Works’ inspired by Pope Francis calling the church to the Jubilee Year of Mercy. On three mornings, parish groups with their priest led the Mass with different presentations on the theme of mercy. Those three mornings stand out for me, in their beautiful simplicity and the profundity they shared with all gathered in the Big Top tent where we worshipped daily. At the closing Mass, each parish group made their pledges of mercy, and I defy anyone to say they were unmoved by the pledges made. The usual components of sprinkling with water from the Holy Well, Benediction and Confession all added to the week to make it a truly special pilgrimage for all. People are fond of saying that our youth are the future of the church; actually they are the church now and are hungry for Jesus. It was good to see that being realised within the catholic tradition.

Greenbelt Festival

The Franciscan team again had a slot on the main programme at Greenbelt 2016—three slots, in fact, as each afternoon they presented a session in ‘The Grove’ a small outdoor space among the trees. The outdoor aspect did not deter an audience of 60-80 people, even when it poured with rain a quarter of an hour into Saturday’s session!  With presentations on creation, humility, and justice, there was no shortage of questions from the ’floor’ and some interesting conversations followed afterwards.

The Anglican Religious Communities had a tented stall to promote religious life, so some of the Franciscans and honorary Franciscans were also involved with staffing there.

Here they come…

Michael Jacob writes:

At the end of August, the Anglican First Professed Brothers and Sisters came together for their annual conference at St Mary’s Convent in Wantage. We started off with a fresh look at the English Mystics in an inspiring talk from Sister Alison OSB. Later on, we found ourselves sitting under the trees in the garden, discussing the virtues and vices of the contemplative life versus the apostolic life, based on our experience in the different communities. We somehow came to the conclusion that our lives are not all that different, despite the diverse tags.

Arguably the high-light of the conference was a day of Creative Writing, facilitated by Pauline Hobbes, a poet from the North East.  Her gentle beckoning style drew even the more timid in. Some of us already had ample experience in Creative Writing; whilst others were prob-ably rather astounded by a potential unbeknown to them.

Needless to say, the social side of these conferences has a high value in itself: a good opportunity to catch up with people from other communities in discussions till late. But also the Sisters expressed their joy at having us, just like the astounded vicar when we turned up at the midweek Eucharist in the parish church (and tripled the attendance). We went home, refreshed and with new inspiration.

Round up

Amos has moved to Leeds, and Cristian Michael to Glasshampton.

Anselm celebrated the 60th anniversary of his profession in vows at Glasshampton, on 8th December 2016.

Michael Kenney has been admitted as a postulant and will be noviced at Alnmouth on 17th December taking the name of Finnian.

In Korea, Sister Juliana, formerly a member of the Society of the Holy Cross, is living with Frances and Jemma while discerning whether to transfer to CSF. f

 

 

Theme Prayer

O God,

take our minds and think through them,

take our lips and speak through them,

take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you;

may your kingdom come,

on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

The Daily Office SSF page 782

 

Minister’s Letter

Dear Friends,

As you receive this issue of the franciscan, I am beginning a month in Calais working with a friend of SSF, Broeder Johannes Maertens, in a house of hospitality.

Calais has been a focal point for the controversy about the refugees in Europe. Many people have said they support the people but oppose the policy that allows huge numbers of people to come into their country. It isn’t clear as I write in October 2016 if there will be a refugee encampment at Calais in January 2017, but one thing is certain: the refugee crisis will still exist in Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, Africa, the Middle East — and other places. Even if the encampment is gone, I believe I will have work to do: the traditional works of mercy: offering to those in need food, clothing, shelter, visiting those sick and in prison. Who knows what I will be called on to do?  My first obligation is to show up.

For the past several years the stories of refugees from around the world have made a great impression on me. Their stories are heartbreaking tales of danger, violence and death, extraordinary perseverance and (some—far too few) lucky breaks. What is needed, in addition to the power of world organizations and governments to bring peace to the war-torn areas of the world, is the convincing influence of ordinary people serving their fellow human beings.

Eight years ago I went to Iran as a ‘citizen diplomat’ with The Fellowship of Reconciliation. Citizen diplomacy is grassroots-level meetings, sharing life experiences, and returning to talk about these things with other ‘ordinary people.’

It is through caring and creating bonds with refugees that any one of us can contribute to a transformation of consciousness. Informed by personal relationships we can encourage the development of the political will to stop these injustices.

Refugees and asylum seekers are a global problem. There are people fleeing to Europe from Syria. Other refugees and desperate people are trying to find better lives in the United States. People are braving the seas to reach Australia. The fact that so many of these people are turned back, or put into detention centres and become the objects of suspicion and hatred, is a scandal. It is necessary that Christians do whatever they can to reach out a friendly hand of fellowship, and advocate on behalf of the refugees and asylum seekers.  For all who watched the Olympic Games there was the powerful story of the Team Refugee: men and women who competed as stateless persons. Their stories of overcoming huge challenges to be there were staggering. Refugees are not helpless people with nothing to offer. They have the same dreams and aspirations as all of us, and the world community must act to ensure the universal human rights to peace, justice and a decent life.

In addition to the political, and economic refugees, there are what we call climate refugees: people who are now or will soon be fleeing their island homes because of rising sea levels.

More people are fleeing their homes now than ever before.

A drink of cold water, a blanket, a friendly conversation are humanizing initiatives, and Christ commends them. Writing letters, telling stories, meeting with others to bring political pressure to influence leaders is a natural corollary of the acts of mercy.

Above all, pray for the refugees, and pray that God will use you in some way to make a difference in your community and our world.

With every blessing for the New Year.

Br. Clark Berge SSF

(Until 2017 Br Clark Berge was Minister General of the First Order Brothers)

 

 

 

Franciscan Brothers in Hong Kong

Following a much appreciated visit to Hong Kong last year by three Brothers a further visit has been undertaken. This year Br Alfred Boon Kong and Br Christopher John (from the Province of the Divine Compassion) have been joined by Br Martin John (of the European Province).